In Search of Livelihoods: My Trek around Tanzania

“In life, you never know what is going to happen. You cannot always control it.  But you must always remember to laugh.”

This is what my trusted sidekick-slash-translator-slash-tour guide-slash-body guard  Michael Gombe says to me as we stood on the side of a busy, dusty street just outside of Arusha city.  We were searching for an organization that provides a safe home and skills training to young girls who are out of school.

We were lost.

Michael and I had just met; earlier we had gone over our itinerary for the week, and now we were carrying around a list of 10 potential organizations to meet within 4 days.  I was lucky to have his kind assistance, and already he was sharing with me his wise, yet funny, musings on life.

My task before me was altogether daunting and exciting, but after my first week in Mwanza, scurrying around to meet with health and youth development organizations, I had some practice already.  I also was well-rehearsed for the “hurry up and wait” syndrome that comes with working in the field.

Kristy and Michael Gombe at the Arushavolunteer's debrief dinner

Kristy and Michael Gombe at the Arusha volunteer’s debrief dinner

My assignment, as a YCI Innovator-slash-programming assistant, was to identify and consult with major stakeholders who provide services to local youth, including employment, training, financial, and health services.  I was searching for local clues about the current situation of youth livelihoods and health in Tanzania, while at the same time identifying possible linkages with organizations, government ministries, and private companies.  I was also leading and facilitating participatory youth focus groups wherein local youth themselves could provide a perspective and voice within our research.   All of this information is hoped to better inform YCI’s proposal writing and program design under the next funding cycle.

My assignment was very unique.  Not only did I get to travel around Tanzania to almost every program area YCI works in (Mwanza, Arusha, Zanzibar), but I also met with several organizations that were as equally passionate about youth development as we at YCI are.  My interviews, in some ways, were more like conversations – spanning from topics like the Tanzanian education system and how ill-equipped it is to produce graduates with practical skills, to corruption and fraud and nepotism in the government structures, to the mindset of youth themselves and how they live in a culture of dependency on parents and other adults.  But there were also many stories: Stories of urgency and need, but also stories of hope.

It is well recognized in Canada and all over the world that there is a youth ‘bubble’, and that this bubble has formed during a worldwide economic crisis.  Our youth population is booming, while the youth unemployment rate is reaching record numbers. This has resulted, at least in Tanzania, to many youth who are idle, bored, frustrated, and even hopeless. Many have turned to the informal sector, or self-employment because it seems to be one of the few places where they have a chance, where they can fit into the labour market.

Kristy facilitating afocus group in Mwanza

Kristy facilitating a focus group in Mwanza

“We need a facilitative environment for youth to become self-reliant”, said one representative from the Grassroots Youth Development Organization in Arusha. “Over 60% of the workforce in Tanzania is made up of youth, and we can help them contribute to society if we encourage them and build their skills.”

This theme was echoed throughout many of my interviews and conversations with youth-serving organizations.  Youth need to be able to stand on their own, be self-reliant, have confidence, stretch their capacities, experiment with their creativity and imagination, and be leaders. In many cases they just need a safe, supportive environment to do so.

And standing right beside me, on that busy, dusty road, was a case in point.  A recent graduate of the Umoja Centre, an education centre for Primary School leavers, and local ‘superstar’ volunteer for YCI, Michael has great dreams ahead of him.  He most recently applied to go to Secondary School, so he can “be a good brother and supporter to my family.”  While his passions are poetry, literature, and philosophy, he wishes some day to open his own business, improve his English skills, and learn to play the guitar.

I told him he was already well on his way.

– Kristy Tomkinson, Youth Innovator and Program Assistant, Tanzania 2013


YCI Volunteer of the Year: International Volunteers!

YCI had a great year in 2012 and sent 115 amazing youth volunteers and interns overseas to work with local staff and local volunteers in our host communities. Thanks to the hard work and innovation of both international and local youth volunteers, YCI was able to make significant contributions towards creating positive change in communities in Ghana, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Guyana and Guatemala. In honour of this achievement, YCI would like to recognize 3 exceptional volunteers; one local volunteer from Tanzania, a local volunteer from Ghana, and an international YCI volunteer.

YCI is proud to present the Co-Winners of the International Volunteer of the Year award: Erin Scott and Alicia Perry!

Alicia and Erin2

Alicia and Erin in Tanzania

Alicia Perry

Alicia’s positive personality and enthusiasm enabled her to work well with her fellow Canadian YCI volunteer (Erin Scott), the local Tanzanian volunteers, and YCI staff while in Morogoro. Her easy-going, positive, friendly and accommodating personal qualities made her a valuable team player in organizing and implementing program activities. Her open communication made it easy to know what was on her mind and she was always just as eager to get insight from staff and local volunteers for input into program ideas and plans.


Alicia worked hard to come with the best lesson plans for the many workshops and sessions she participated in, and she was always dedicated to ensuring the other participants were able to get the most out of them as possible. She recognized that the learning process for some of the programs’ participants varied, thereby making it difficult for some of the well-planned activities to work as planned; however, Alicia would never give up and continued to try new approaches and incorporate available resources.

In addition to her work with YCI in Morogoro, Alicia’s compassion and desire to contribute to the community in Morogoro lead her to illustrate her global citizenship in an amazing way. Through sharing her personal experiences with her friends and family back home in Canada, she facilitated the collection of donations for the 117 HIV-positive children in Faraja’s Home Based Care program. This enabled Alicia and Erin to purchase clothing, toys, books, and food that were then distributed at a special Play Day.

Erin Scott

Erin demonstrated excellent qualities of global citizenship and youth leadership during her time as a Youth Ambassador in Morogoro. Her flexibility, maturity and team-work skills were crucial in accomplishing the project goals and objectives. Erin’s ability to positively deal with situations and challenges, as well as her strong communication skills, ensured there was a good group dynamic among YCI staff, with her co-volunteer (Alicia), local volunteers, partner organization staff, and community participants.


Erin’s dedication to engaging with and immersing herself in the community led her to try to learn the local language so she could communicate and interact more with the community. She worked hard to make sure the beneficiaries of the many workshops and programs gained as much information as possible. Erin took particular care to always have a more interactive and participatory approach in the program activities she led and participated in; she worked very hard at ensuring that she interacted with participants to get feedback and hear more from them during workshops and information sessions.

Erin is an excellent leader, yet equally as good at letting others lead and helping to develop their leadership skills. Her respect and consideration for those around her, as well as her dedication to community and youth development make her an exemplary YCI volunteer.

Project Update: Morogoro, Tanzania


The end of December 2012 was the end of not only the year, but also YCI’s partnership with the Faraja Trust Fund in Morogoro, Tanzania. YCI has partnered with Faraja since 2005 to support its mission as an HIV/AIDS and community focused organization. From starting out with only three volunteers when it was founded in 1991, Faraja has grown into a vibrant institution with over 100 volunteers including peer educators, home care nurses, credit advisers and life skills trainers. Since partnering with YCI, Faraja has engaged in programming activities including preventive HIV/AIDS education, HIV/AIDS care and counseling, income generation support for out-of-school youth, encouraging neighborhood women’s associations and providing access to legal and human rights support.

Check out the latest (and last!) newsletter from Morogoro written up by our YCI Youth Ambassador volunteers here: Newsletter Morogoro Dec 2012

International Volunteer Day Celebrated Tanzanian Style!

Yesterday, Wednesday December 5th, was International Volunteer Day. The purpose of this day is to thank volunteers for their support and ensure that people are aware of the great work volunteers do and how much we need them in societies everywhere. In Tanzania, we celebrated International Volunteer Day in both Morogoro and Zanzibar.


What is Volunteerism – in Swahili and English

International volunteers in Morogoro, Tanzania, took the sunny Wednesday afternoon to celebrate and share stories of volunteerism with all the youth that they have worked with over the past 6 weeks.

UMATI’s Youth Action Movement (YAM) group took this day to celebrate the raging success they had at all their outreach events last month. The first took place at a rural high school (as seen in Alicia’s YCI blog post here), and the second took place on November 30th to promote World AIDS Day.


A member of YAM talks about what he learned from Volunteering

Faraja’s Home Based Care Youth Ambassadors were recognized for their continued participation and attendance in Peer Education and Health workshops. Their passion for learning about HIV/AIDS and how it affects their friends and community is something to be greatly admired. We know that with their growing confidence, they are equipped to educate their peers about HIV/AIDS.

We are also happy to recognize The Chamwino Girls Club. The girls were awarded with certificates to commemorate the training they received in Business English vocabulary and sentence structure. The Girls’ accomplishments in using debates to inform their peers on important gender and HIV issues were also celebrated.


Chamwino Girls Club awaiting the ceremony

Last, but certainly not least, we celebrated all the work that the ~100 volunteers at Faraja Trust Fund take on. These volunteers work tirelessly on a daily basis to ensure that Faraja’s mission is fulfilled and the necessary services are provided to those that need them the most. During our time here, the Faraja staff have been committing their time, 3 days a week, to improve the computer skills necessary for building capacity within their organization.

In Zanzibar, International Volunteer Day celebrations happened at Mahonda Youth Centre, welcoming around 90 youth, adults, and young children to participate and observe the day’s activities. The youth participants of YCI’s Emerging Leaders class were responsible for planning the event – everything from the location, to transportation, entertainment, and programming – and it was a job very well done!!

One highlight of the event was a youth debate that was coordinated by the Emerging Leaders. The debate statement was “Leaders are Born” and many people shared their arguments as to whether leaders are born or whether they are made. The winning side was “Leaders are Born,” for their passionate responses and valid arguments that everyone is born a leader and has their leadership strengthened the more that they grow.


YCI Volunteers Local and International – Irene, Alicia, Norbert and Erin

Some other highlights included:

  • Two past local volunteers were invited to speak about their experience with YCI and to share the benefits that youth can reap from volunteering in their community.
  • A few participants from the Business English class performed a skit on the positive effect that volunteering and leadership-building has on youth.
  • There were also three spectacular poetry performances recited by several participants of the Emerging Leaders and Business English groups.
  • Finally, the Youth Ambassadors concluded with YCI’s Program Closing, where they awarded the 21 fabulous participants with their certificates of completion and a Canadian flag pin! To end off with a bang, our DJ of the day played some great music and several local youth showed off their fancy moves to the crowd!

To end off the event with a big bang, our DJ of the day played some great music and several local youth showed off their fancy moves to the crowd!

Mirjam Groen, Global Ambassador, Tanzania 2012

If you are interested in volunteering in Tanzania in the upcoming year, Check out our 4-week project leaving this January 29th or our 8-week project leaving in May. For information on all our overseas placements, check out our Program Calendar.

Reaching Out

The Youth Action Movement in Morogoro. This is the group volunteers Alicia and Erin are working with on project.

Outreach events are an effective way for youth to share their knowledge with their peers. As an international volunteer in Tanzania, I have been collaborating with several organizations, which focus largely on health issues. For the past month I have been working with UMATI’s Youth Action Movement (YAM). UMATI is a member of Planned Parenthood and their YAM is a group of 25 passionate youth working to improve the lives of others in their community.

Early pregnancy is a big issue in Tanzania, often resulting in girls dropping out of school. Due to this issue facing many youth, I have been working with YAM to plan an outreach event at a nearby high school. Youth teaching youth is a powerful tool, especially with a taboo topic like this.

YAM outside the UMATI office.

After driving about 45 minutes we reached Mikese, a rural town on the outskirts of Morogoro. Upon our arrival, the students were immediately inquisitive and anxious for the event to begin. YAM members discussed issues related to early pregnancy, held a Q&A session, and hosted a rap competition. Music was an effective tool to create a positive, welcoming environment.  Dancing united people of all ages, languages, and beliefs together; it seems wherever there is music, people will dance.

Learning dance moves from YAM!

Seeing the success of the event, one might not imagine that we faced a major challenge along the way. A week prior to the event, we learned that we would not be able to demonstrate proper condom use, nor would we be allowed to focus on condoms as a method of preventing early pregnancy. Condoms are an incredibly important aspect, as abstinence is only effective if youth are not having sex.

Despite this obstacle the response from students was very positive. It was great to see YAM members come alive and really engage the student body. Along with local volunteers and my fellow YCI volunteer, we have been focussing lessons plans on such issues and I was impressed to see the amount of information the YAM members retained.

The students brought their desks out to sit and listen.

Each day I spend in Morogoro I am moved by the confidence, passion, and dedication of the youth. I am looking forward to our next outreach event on World AIDS Day. We will be uniting YAM with Chamwino’s Girls Club to host a large event specific to HIV/AIDS.

Bus ride together with YAM members.

-Alicia Perry, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2012

A Tanzanian Symphony

The organized chaos of the dala dala station cannot be portrayed through a photograph. You can’t hear the conductors shouting, the engines revving, or the merchants trying to get your attention. And you certainly can’t smell all the engine exhaust!

People say that the sense of smell is the strongest memory trigger. Photographs are wonderful mementos that can be shared with family and friends, but when a place’s personality is built so much upon auditory and olfactory senses, even the greatest photographer cannot capture its true essence.

One of the best ways to grasp Tanzania without actually being here is to simply hear it. All sounds are enhanced– music, personal interactions, traffic… you name it. Bongo Flavour and Hip Hop music blasts from personal cell phones, household televisions, and store-front stereos. Church choirs sing, and Islamic Mosque’s send their prayer songs out into the streets. Children laugh and play on the street, and their bubbly voices carry in through the glassless windows. At night, dogs, crickets chirp, and unseen mice squeak. And how could I forget the rooster that crows relentlessly into my window as the sun rises?

Can you hear the music blasting from the duka’s store front, or the tin being re-arranged from the banana stand on the left? Can you smell the garbage smouldering in the ditch out front?

Because there is no glass insulation, people can carry on full conversations from street to house. There is a lady that comes by daily to sell fruit to our mama. She shouts, “Mama, Habari ya asabui?  Ndizi?” (What’s the news of the morning? Do you need bananas?). People even chat with their neighbours while staying firmly seated in the comfort of their own home. Chatting is hearty and almost always accompanied by lots of laughter.

After human interactions, it’s the sound of traffic that dominates the air waves. Engines rumble, horns beep, brakes squeal at deafening pitches, and drivers chat and tell jokes from vehicle to vehicle. My personal favourite form of transportation, the dala dala, honks the entirety of its route to remind pedestrians that there is always room for one more!

While these are the main sounds that pervade my ear drums, there are so many other small noises that add to the Tanzanian symphony: pots being scrubbed, floors being swept, small critters rustling in bushes, generators humming, birds chirping, chickens clucking, goats moaning … and have I mentioned the roosters?

Mamas cooking chapatis roadside… Fast food Tanzanian style!

As for that sense of smell, my nasal receptors are primarily occupied by 4 scents: smoke, body odour (a delightful combination of my own and others’), the occasional waft of sewage, and FOOD. Smoke is both inside and out. In the house, a one-burner charcoal stove is used to heat food and water. Out front, the remnants of yesterday’s trash smoulder in the ditch. This may cause the sustainably inclined to cringe, but at this point in time, it’s the only solution to the public health problem that garbage creates. Luckily my nostrils are frequently saved by the smell of delicious food cooking. My favourite is rice; a simple but pleasing aroma.

Of course my other senses are bombarded on a daily basis as well. I feel hot and sticky most days, and the feeling of community is heartwarming and admirable. But no matter where I am in the future, I know that the smell of rice and charcoal will bring me back to my casual meanderings through Morogoro neighbourhoods. I know that I will forever associate Chris Brown’s music with the dance parties I shared with neighbourhood kids. And as for the rooster… I will forever fantasize about ringing his ugly, feathered neck.

-Erin Scott, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2012

IYIP Blog: Morogoro and the Faraja Trust Fund

Some of the community Faraja serves during a Gender Training by Sana.

Walking through the doors of Faraja Trust Fund (FTF) feels like you’ve entered a community centre or a clinic rather than an NGO office. The small, inviting garden leads to two buildings with half a dozen office rooms, with hardly enough room to accommodate the line-up of people sitting and waiting to talk to someone. On any given day, the visitors may range from rural women seeking help on starting up a small household business; a group of secondary school girls seeking information about HIV and STI infections; teachers from Faraja’s two schools designated for street children designing their lesson plans, or an elderly couple seeking legal aid to contest a land dispute.

The Faraja office.

“Faraja”, I’m told, translates from Kiswahili  as carer and supporter. For over twenty years, the FTF has stood in this role for the people of Morogoro. On any given day, I might encounter a dozen different people around town curious as to what brings me to Morogoro. Almost always, as soon as I mention my placement with Faraja, a knowing “aha” follows. This is the power of a well-established grassroots, locally run community NGO. Faraja’s resources might be sparse, but its heart is spread wide, and this does not go unnoticed. Outreach committees around Malaria, HIV, child protection and microfinance set out to help Morogoro’s most vulnerable. Visits and trainings take up the calendar year, and as is the norm with NGOs reliant on donor funding, the other half is taken up by writing reports.

This highlights one of the realities of Faraja’s work – it does not exist in a vacuum where grassroots initiatives are safe from the shrinking hands of foreign aid. In fact, many of Faraja’s projects are dependent on external funding, and if the funding is not there, the delivery mechanism is weakened. Faraja tries everything in its means to keep things running. The Home-Based Care centre, one of the first in the community, is in a dire state. Fewer patients arrive as there are fewer drugs and specialists to assist, and newer HBC Centres compete for limited resources. Despite this, a monthly play day – one of the only outlets for HIV-affected young people and children to play, run, laugh, feel loved and be fed nutritious food – is organized at the centre. It’s a vital day for these youth, one of the few times they feel truly free, yet for three months this spring they were forced to do without this meeting place. On the play day arranged after this long hiatus, the children run to each other, holding each other and catching up. It’s an important peer group that provides a form of support, and it’s a small splinter from the many arms that Faraja has on offer. Even when the funds run dry, the work keeps running.

The ‘mamas’ at Faraja.

I’m seeing the real plays of grassroots work here, sometimes not as idealistic as my academic training had me imagine. The reality of foreign development, shrinking aid budgets and fickle development agendas threaten the existence of truly locally-driven initiatives. But as long as Faraja runs like a true community – the work won’t stop. Faraja was founded based on the simple principle of helping those most in need. Faraja’s founder, Dr. Lucy Nkeya, doing her Masters research in the early nineties discovered how much misinformation existed about the spread of HIV/AIDS, especially among vulnerable communities. Through this discovery and the commitment to do something to help the community – a spark helped deliver Faraja in the world. The NGO is not without its battles, and I have quickly learned the flexibility needed to adapt to working in an environment where things run day-to-day. And I have learned a lot. As I approach my departure, I wonder about Faraja’s coming daily battles. What will be the new challenges? Who will fund its new projects? Will the family stay the same, or will new faces come and go? I know things will evolve, but most of all I’m hopeful the staff and everyone involved can keep the flame going strong for at least another twenty years to come.

-Sana Malik, Health Outreach Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Tanzania 2012